Lotus is an Indiana and Denver-based band. They put on an energetic, ever-shifting live show. Percussionist Chuck Morris recently discussed the formation of Lotus, their creative process and his favorite drummers. For more info on Lotus, check out http://www.lotusvibes.com/
Did you come from a musical family? Were your parents musical?
Yes, and they still are. My father is a chorus director and arranger for men’s barbershop. Even my sisters still compete. One might think I’m the musical black sheep of the family, but all those years of high harmony set me up with a knowledge of natural phrasing and spacing that really helps me decipher the right pitches to use.
What was your earliest musical memory?
“Celebrate Good Times,” by the Village People, on the world’s first handheld portable radio. I knew then that I loved grooving.
How did you first get interested in playing the drums?
I can still picture a poster of Phil Collins in my bedroom behind his drums, surrounded by space travel. My family works at NASA Cape Canaveral and I was a bit obsessed with the US space program with big dreams of becoming an astronaut. My family used to have a group we called the Morris Tumphany where we played songs on our bellies like they were handdrums. That got me started and I began to take drum Lessons in the 6th grade.
Who are some of your favorite drummers and why?
Giovanni Hidalgo. He is a real conguero and a mentor for me and countless others.
Babatunde Olatunji. He is the Godfather of handdrumming in the United States.
Trilok Gurtu. He turned the rhythm tree upside down.
Aaron Comess was so Funky. There are so many great drummers that have influenced me.
Danny Carey changed my approach.
Jon Fishman opened me up.
Steve Adler made me want to practice!
What do you remember most about your first time onstage?
In grade school, thankfully I was caped with a sheet for the Ghostbusters theme song. My sister poked me in the head with a ghost blaster. My earliest productions were Rumplestiltskin and competing at barbershop international with the Mammoth Cavemen.
How did Lotus first come together?
In my mind, Lotus originated in the Rocky Mountains at a Snow Camp, because those initial friendships influenced freshman roommates at a small college in northern Indiana where I resided while pursuing music at another school. I was closer to the Umphrey’s camp when I joined forces with the band, which, looking back, seems laughable because these two bands have come so far and now work together!
How does the creative process work when writing songs in Lotus?
Luke and Jesse have a real fundamental knowledge of structure and what they strive to compose is very balanced for the live band. Always keeping their focus on creating danceable tracks that utilize the acoustic elements we travel with, they excel at pumping out material for demos. Everybody adds a little spice and we have something workable in a short amount of time. It’s cool to work with minds that are driven to produce so much. We used to write and title songs as a band long ago, but that changed once daw’s became available to us! Also, I have a family and other members just let them take the wheel. So it is natural for us.
How often do you find yourself writing songs?
I am writing one right now, but I am not sure anyone but me is going to hear it. I enjoy a bit more avant garde folky music than we try to present at a Lotus show. Sometimes piano, cello, and a vocal is all you need.
You tour a ton. What have been some of your strangest moments on the road?
Consistency is something we’ve been working toward and our crew is so great that it is less likely for strangeness to occur during a show but I remember I bumped my head getting onstage on an overhead concrete stairwell tread. It hurt but then again, nothing hurts once you take the stage. So we get into the middle of a jam a few songs in (Soma) and from what I understand my third eye ruptured and I was just jamming away with blood spurting from my forehead. That must have been a trip for any observer amongst the crowd.
How do you go about creating a setlist?
Luke has a mathematical approach that works best for organizing movement within the sets. He puts the energy into creating setlists these days.
How do you approach creating studio albums differently than your live shows?
We aim to create a more textured sound live so in that environment there are more elements present, especially in the percussion world. In the studio we can appropriate tones that do not walk on each other and hear what doesn’t need to be in the mix since there is so much clarity. It’s nice to strip instrumentation back a bit to create an accessible and simple play between melody and rhythm.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career?
Great question. Originally, it became not meeting the expectations of family and friends. It was not easy to decide that I would no longer pursue a career in science and engineering. Secondly, I think anyone who has taken this path has realized it is a vow to others that includes financial struggle. A commitment which has led us to having intention with our motifs and being extremely hard-working. I had never really fit in any cliques so I am also challenged to maintain identity when faced with so many opinions. But then again I find a lot in common with others, so I do have a great time getting to know fans. I was on the independence train earlier than most so this job is perfect for me, one who has minimal social needs and enjoys the feeling of being alone in my thoughts sometimes.
Do you have a quote or motto that you live by?
Whatever it takes.
What advice would you give to musicians just starting out?
Keep your eye on technology as a tool, but express yourself as naturally as possible, even if it’s a little sloppy-this is endearing, so is art. Slow and steady for the win.